Strange, suspect voices

March 23, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 7
Steve Heinrichs,

One of the things I most admire about Scripture is the space it creates for the undominant voice, specifically the strange and suspect voice. For sure, the text is far from perfect. Alongside all those male authors, heroes and stories, give us some more women! And next to those Israelite colonists, how about a few Canaanites—those dispossessed natives—offering their truths?

Yet within this unbalanced collection, marginal voices burst forth to shock and woo us out of the status quo, bringing a “God-breathed” word. Think Moabite Ruth, Hosea’s grieving earth or Isaiah’s King Cyrus (a “pagan” messiah).

Although I grew up with the Bible by my side, I was suspicious about “outsider” voices. They didn’t know what my Mennonite, middle-class community knew. At the very least, “they” didn’t know the truth as fully as we did.

Yet the Bible queries such exclusive postures. It invites us to look beyond our church circles to learn about God, to receive truths about power (political, economic and religious), to be shocked into neighbour love and wooed to repentance. The Bible suggests that alongside the holy disciplines of worship, fasting and solitude, we should discipline ourselves to listen to the suspect and strange.

I’m convinced the Spirit is calling the church to open our ears to indigenous people groups. Robbed of land, children and traditional ways, the indigenous have been pushed to the “strange” margins. And in the eyes of most mainstream Canadians, they are suspect. Can we listen to them?

It won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus.

In Matthew 15, Jesus encounters a native woman who seeks help for her daughter. Jesus has the resources and power to offer such, but he doesn’t want anything to do with her. She’s a Canaanite “dog” (his words), and he came to serve the Israelites. It’s a difficult scene. Yet because of her persistence, because she continues despite the ethno-centric prejudice of Jesus, something miraculous takes place. Jesus has a conversion. He sees this woman. And he listens.

For generations, Indigenous Peoples in Canada have persistently voiced their concerns to our churches and the state. For the most part, their voices have been ignored. But because of their persistence in the face of settler society’s profound ignorance and racism, something miraculous is taking place. Pockets of settler society are experiencing a conversion. Some are seeing host peoples for the first time. And they’re listening. Really listening.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) gifted us with a new, more accurate history of indigenous-settler relations in Canada along with 94 “calls to action,” six of which are geared to the church, that we can take to heal our collective brokenness. Like Scripture, the history and these calls aren’t perfect. But, like Scripture, they can point us in life-giving directions. They can shock us out of status quo settler unawareness. They can woo us into paths of healing justice. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the TRC’s Summary Report and read it alongside Scripture.

Steve Heinrichs is Mennonite Church Canada’s director of indigenous relations.

For one response to the TRC Calls to Action, see “MC Canada provides resource on indigenous-settler reconciliation.” 

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